Sunday, 15 July 2018
…I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, Philemon 1:10
The structure of the Greek is much different than it is laid out here. It more literally reads, “I beg you for my child whom I have begotten in the chains, Onesimus.” Placing his name last is Paul’s way of emphasizing the entire thought. “I have a child; I begot him while I was in chains; he is Onesimus.”
Everything written thus far by Paul has been penned for this particular individual, Onesimus. It is apparent that Philemon knows who Paul is speaking about, and there is something that he desires of Philemon concerning him. It is also obvious that there is a problem which exists between Philemon and Onesimus. It is one which would otherwise be an insurmountable problem, but because of Paul’s careful wording, even including the way he has structured the words in this verse, a resolution is possible. It will be one not based on the relationship of Philemon to Onesimus, but on the relationship between Philemon and Paul, and because of Paul’s new relationship with Onesimus.
The reason for his heartfelt plea is at least partially understood now with the words, “my son.” Paul has become a father to him. He has used the word when speaking of the Galatians –
“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you…” Galatians 4:19
He then spoke of Timothy as his own son in Philippians, 1 Timothy (twice), 2 Timothy (twice), and of Titus in his letter to him. It is a term of endearment based on having led someone to Christ, or having adopted him through instruction about Christ. In the case of Onesimus, Paul further says, “whom I have begotten while in my chains.” In other words, while Paul was still in prison, he had met with and converted Onesimus to the faith. From there, it is obvious that he continued to tutor him as a father would tutor his own son.
The name Onésimos essentially means “Useful,” as in “profitable,” or in “advantage.” In order to understand the situation, it is necessary to go forward in the letter to determine what had happened. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, but he ran away from Philemon. This would obviously be hugely problematic, and this is why Paul has so tenderly arranged his thoughts about Philemon first, and then about Onesimus. Because he is now Paul’s son, there is a new dynamic which must be considered.
Life application: When a person becomes a Christian, a new set of possibilities arises in how we can and should treat that person. We may have been enemies, but that should now change. There may be debts owed, but those should be forgiven. And so on. This is the attitude we should have toward those who come to Christ. Understanding this, Christians should endeavor to maintain those feelings of forgiveness to those who have been brothers and sisters all along. This is a tough challenge, because some never mature in Christ. They fail to grow in wisdom and knowledge, they continue to act immaturely, and they are real sore spots within the fellowship. Paul gives advice on how to handle fellow believers like that elsewhere in his letters. Be well brushed up on those things so that you are ready to properly handle difficult people who are believers.
Lord God, help us to do our best to be forgiving of our fellow believers, but help us to be wise in Your word and what it says, concerning those who fail to mature in You, and who continue to act in a way which is unsound. In knowing what Your instruction says about these things, we don’t have to feel guilty when we cut off fellowship – even from believers. Help us in this, O God. Amen.